in Awesome People, Fitness

Olga Kotelko and Aging Well

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times:

  • Yesterday at the gym, I was able to back squat my body weight, 175 pounds. That’s 40 pounds more than my previous best. Plus, I did 195 sit-ups and 198 box jumps, nearly keeping pace with Dan and Dana. It was a good day.
  • Today at the gym, we spent twenty minutes alternating between: run 400 meters, do as many pull-ups as possible. When we last did this in early September, I managed to do seven rounds with 24 pull-ups. I did seven rounds again today, but I only managed 11 pull-ups. It was a bad day.

Sometimes, days like today can get me down. Two weeks ago, I let a bad day put me in a deep, dark place and had to take a break from the gym. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to remind myself why I’m doing this.

Why am I doing this? Why am I getting fit? Since returning from France, I’ve taken the long-term view. I’m doing this because I want to be healthy for the rest of my life, not because I want to do 25 pull-ups on the 21st of December 2010. I want to be an athlete when I’m eighty. And seventy. And sixty. And fifty.

A few weeks ago, The New York Times magazine (which I still wish I could receive separate from the paper) published a story about Olga Kotelko, “the incredible flying nonagenarian“. Kotelko is a 91-year-old Canadian who is still competing in track-and-field events. Well, “still competes” is misleading. She didn’t start competing until she was 77. Now, “she is considered one of the worldโ€™s greatest athletes, holding 23 world records, 17 in her current age category, 90 to 95.”

If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is. Reading about her accomplishments, I realized something. Although I was never an athlete when I was in high school, or college, or a young man, or even now — maybe I could become an athlete in middle age, and on into my sixties, seventies, and eighties. I’m not joking. I love physical activity, and I love competition. Where is it written that I can’t say, “To hell with the past, I’m going to live for the future.”?

So, that’s what I aim to do. Sure, I wish I’d done more than eleven pull-ups today, but I’m not going to let that faster. In February or March when we do this workout again, I’m going to do 25 pull-ups. Or more. And when I’m an old man? I hope to be setting — and meeting — similar physical goals.

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  1. How do you define “athlete”? By some definitions, you already are.

    But sure, the world of athletics definitely makes us think that if you haven’t done it by the time you’re 19, you’re not ever going to be able to do it, and they’re just wrong.

    (I am an athlete now, but I’m not competitive with anyone but myself … and occasionally people who I see in races who I cannot possibly let myself be beaten by ๐Ÿ˜‰ )